There was a time in my life where I considered Sum 41 as a band that was brash, daring, dangerous, and above all exciting. Sure, I was 13 but the band always made me curious enough with subsequent albums to still keep listening even if they weren’t the poet-laureates of our time. Sadly, none of those things can be said for their latest release, Underclass Hero.
Simply put: the album is boring and predictable. In an attempt to broaden their sonic pallet, the band claimed they were returning to a more melodic sound rather be restricted by their brand of punk-by-way of metal on Chuck. Instead, the band (minus one Dave ‘Brownsound’ Baksh) have crafted a record that is not only heavy on the studio gloss and compression, but one that sports too many saccharine hooks, half baked social commentary, and about a dozen riffs mined from Enema Of The State era blink 182. The album itself sounds incredibly dated in the malaise of late 90s pop-punk that one can’t possibly see it as anything original.
This wouldn’t be such an issue of the band were writing about broken hearts and had a thesaurus by their side. However, Dereck Whibley is about making “statements” with his music now. Unfortunately this amounts to spouting one liners like, “Mom and Dad both in denial/An only child to take the blame” in “Walking Disaster.” It gets worse though, for they announce that “The President is dead!” in the supposedly edgy “March Of The Dogs.” Sure, Sum 41 had political (and I use that term liberally) leanings with Chuck, but those were born out of frustration and alienation; things that came naturally to them. Here, they aim to crate anthems of dissent but the problem is they have no ideas about how to make things better or how to articulate it. The end result is that these “call to arms” merely serve as the call to preteens to open up their wallets and fork over $12 for a copy of Underclass Hero.
The band misses Baksh and it shows. Hell, the Sum Trio now even rips off themselves. They borrow the same vocal delivery from “Fat Lip” and use it in the title track of this album. If your grand and “artistic” statement of an album starts by ripping yourself off, you’re in trouble. Elsewhere, the band takes the very same melody from “We're All To Blame’s” chorus and pastes it into a neat little piano outro for “Pull The Curtain.” This is supposed to be maturity? Perhaps it’s obvious to ask if there is anything worth listening to on this record. Well, “King Of Contradiction” is actually a decent foray into their attempt at hardcore punk. The track is fast, snotty and abrasive; just try to ignore the horn section that shows up halfway through the song. “The Jester” is also a not so veiled jab at George W. Bush and has an interesting rhythm to it. It’s just too bad that all of these hooks and melodies have been done by other bands and far better.
Sum 41 have painted an interesting picture with their 5th album. Far removed from the political call to arms that they meant for it to be, the band has made Canadian idiots of themselves by trying to mine bands like blink 182 and Green Day, while still maintaining that they have a purpose or meaning for their musical statements. Really the album is a call of one thing: DAVE! COME BACK!
Sounds Like (or Steals From?): Enema Of The State (blink 182), Good Charlotte (Good Charlotte), American Idiot (Green Day)
Key Cuts: Underclass Hero, The Jester, King Of Contradiction